Sand Island Lighthouse will be getting its island back.
Decades ago, the island that gave Mobile's signature lighthouse
its name disappeared below the waves, with erosion blamed in
part on the dredging of the Mobile Ship Channel.
Now, thanks to $6 million in federal funds aimed at mitigating
BP's Deepwater Horizon spill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
has received approval to heap millions of cubic yards of sand
around the lighthouse, beginning in March.
The lighthouse has essentially been an island unto itself - a tall,
narrow column of brick standing atop a heap of rocks
surrounded by open water - for as long as most people can remember. But it wasn't
In the 1800s, Sand Island was more than 400 acres, according
to historical records. Early lighthouse keepers had a two-story
house and livestock that grazed on the island.
In the intervening years, Sand Island and Dauphin Island both
experienced heavy erosion that Scott Douglass, a University of
South Alabama coastal engineer, links to the creation of the Mobile
Ship Channel. The channel, Douglas said, disrupts the natural
movement of sand along the Alabama coastline, starving both
Sand and Dauphin islands.
"The funds we got were to use (sand dredged) from existing
federal navigation channels located on the Gulf Coast to mitigate
the Deepwater Horizon spill," said Susan Rees, an environmental
engineer with the Mobile corps district. "We designed a project
that begins around the lighthouse and goes as far west as the
money will carry us."
The remnants of Sand Island are still present in the form of a
large shallow area that stretches west from the lighthouse
toward the Dauphin Island pier. The corps intends to use that shoal
as the backbone of the new island. A long, narrow ridge of sand
will be built up to a height of about 6 feet above the high tide line.
"This is a step in the right direction. They are putting sand where
Mother Nature would have put it if the ship channel weren't there,"
said Douglass. "This project will help restore the natural movement of
Rees said officials hope the island will ultimately be more than a mile
Hal Pierce, with the Alabama Lighthouse Association, said the project
was a major step toward saving the lighthouse for the long term.
"We are delighted. It will give us the first safe docking at the
lighthouse that we've had in years, so people will finally be able
to visit," said Pierce, whose group has long advocated restoring the
island. "If we're ever going to properly fix the lighthouse this
will be a big help."
Dauphin Island mayor Jeff Collier said the project had multiple
benefits. "Not only is it going to help the lighthouse directly
by stabilizing the foundation, but it is also going to benefit
Dauphin Island, both as a wave break and by putting sand into
the system," said Collier. "It is a common sense type thing to do.
People will be able to slide their boats up on the island and
visit the lighthouse. I just can't see a downside."
Corps officials said a public notice for the project should
be posted in a matter of days. A public comment period will follow.
This Web Site is Hosted by:
Good Folks with a Great System
Richard Scott, Pres & CEO